Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Vintage of Educational Reform

I just wanted to make a point in the education debate in passing. It is well worth re-reading Mark's post on his experience with these same reforms:

The trouble is that almost none of the people using the term 'reform' are actually suggesting any reforms. Most of the proposals that have been put forward are simply continuations or extensions of the same failed policies and questionable theories that have been coming out of schools of education for years, if not decades.

In 1994, RAND did a policy brief on the use of standardized scores in education. Look at the conclusions (from 16 years ago):

Research has not been able to pinpoint the effects of the noneducational influences. Nevertheless, people have misused test-score data in the debate to give education a "bad rap." Koretz lists three broad, overlapping kinds of misuse that should be avoided in honest, future debate:

1.Simplistic interpretations of performance trends: These trends should not be taken at face value, ignoring the various factors that influence them: for example, demographic changes in test takers or inflation of scores caused by test-based accountability.

2.Unsupported "evaluations" of schooling: Simple aggregate scores are not a sufficient basis for evaluating education--unless they provide enough information to rule out noneducational influences on performance. Most test-score databases do not offer that kind of information.

3.A reductionist view of education: Koretz notes that it may be "trite" but it is true that education is a "complex mix of successes and failures . . . what works in one context or for one group of students may fail for another." Unfortunately, that truism is often ignored. For example, in the early 1980s, when people were reasonably concerned about falling aggregate test scores, they asked for wholesale changes in policies, without first asking which policies most needed changing or which students or schools most needed new policies.

Maybe we should think twice before declaring that drops or stagnation in scores are necessarily evidence that education is failing? As for the performance gains in charter schools, Mark has been after that issue from the beginning of this discussion here at OE.

It's worth keeping this in mind when evaluating calls for massive reforms on the basis of standardized test scores alone.

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